Since its rise to popularity in the 60s, plastic has weaved its way into being an integral part of our lives, from packaging food to being blended into our clothes. Despite plastic pollution being at the top of the agenda thanks to programmes such as Blue Planet and tireless campaigning by activists, COVID-19 has accelerated the detrimental effect of microplastics on our environment and biodiversity. Stark images of seagulls’ legs entangled in disposable face masks have reiterated the need to encourage using reusable, washable face masks instead.
However, what concerns me is the road ahead, with many barriers facing us during the journey to a plastic-free world.
My first concern is the infamous Internal Marke Act. As many will undoubtedly know, the Internal Market Act is how the UK Government proposes trade will flow within the UK after Brexit. The crucial, and easily the most controversial part of the Act is where it proposes powers previously held by the EU should be held after Brexit. The Act proposed that the UK Government is able to spend in areas that are already devolved, in addition to waiving food and environmental standards set in Wales to other parts of the UK, thus effectively enabling a race to the bottom. This means that if Wales banned single-use plastics in an effort to reduce pollution, products made elsewhere in the UK would be legally allowed to be sold here. The Welsh Government announced in March 2020 that they intended to outlaw single-use plastics including plastic straws and cotton buds, and in turn, released a consultation into the matter in July of the same year. Although this is an essential step to a plastic-free nation, we cannot let our hard work be undone by the Internal Market Act. We must continue to resist its effects with all our might, otherwise, we face the death of devolution and our environment altogether.
In addition to the Internal Market Act, accessible plastic-free alternatives are a huge issue that lie as a potential barrier to a plastic-free Wales. Plastics is one of the issues that we tackled as a Welsh Youth Parliament, and we looked into access and plastic-free alternatives for young people. One aspect that concerns me personally is accessibility to alternatives to plastic. Currently, there are countless alternatives out there to plastic-containing products that we use. However, the cost of these alternatives can often be much more than plastic products. Research by Michigan State University's School of Packaging showed that switching to plastic-free alternatives can increase transport costs by up to five times, depending on what type of material the alternative is. This will undoubtedly incur a more expensive product for consumers and therefore will mean that expensive plastic-free alternatives are inaccessible to young people and the majority of the population without having to significantly increase shopping budgets. When we do switch to plastic alternatives, we must ensure that the right choices are made in terms of material, so that these alternatives are affordable and do not force people to choose plastics.
Lastly, what faces us is a crisis in which our efforts to cut pollution are being thwarted by a government’s ill-judged attempt to override democracy. Their actions will shape the world that will follow as we morph from this coronavirus crisis into a plastics crisis. Meanwhile, lobby your MP through email and social media-show to them that this Act will be catastrophic to our effort on plastic pollution.
Ysgrifenydd | Secretary